Sufjan Stevens returned this year with his first song-based album since 2005's critically acclaimed Illinois, a bold and breathtaking work of intense beauty and unbridled creativity. Stevens opens the album with a short stripped-back folk song about unrequited love which comes to rest on the conclusion that, in this case, "words are futile devices." What follows is an epic journey into Stevens' conscious, exploring loss of love, existential woes, religious faith and physical and mental illness, with inspiration taken from the artwork of schizophrenic self-proclaimed prophet Royal Robertson, which is featured in the cover art. The album's sound is quite difficult to describe; imagine giant steam-powered robots from outer space invading the Earth while Sufjan's disembodied voice floats through the atmosphere as a huge classical orchestra provides a suitably thundering, apocalyptic soundtrack. I can't recommend this album enough, it's a towering achievement and easily the most accomplished release of the year.
2) Twin Shadow - Forget
On this, his debut LP (produced by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor), George Lewis Jr. pares down core elements of 80s New Wave, disco, indie rock and R&B into a slick and meticulous album about lost youth and nostalgia.
3) The National - High Violet
The National continue to hone their mature sound; lead singer Matt Berninger's lyrics are more creative and compelling than ever and the band reach epic levels of haunting beauty.
4) LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
James Murphy and co. release another post-punk inspired electro gem rife with fearless energy and colored by Murphy's charming wit.
Listen to I Can Change by LCD Soundsystem
5) The Walkmen - Lisbon
The Walkmen follow up 2008's dark and moody You & Me with a musically more upbeat and energetic album, but singer Hamilton Leithauser sounds as wounded as ever, though there seems to be a reassurance in his voice this time around that makes it seem as if things are just fine either way.
Listen to Angel Surf City by The Walkmen
6) Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire's most epic album yet, a sprawling dystopic vision of cultural decay that samples a wide variety of retro genres.
Listen to We Used To Wait by Arcade Fire
7) Titus Andronicus - The Moniter
A boisterous and exhilarating rock record about modern discontent and the Civil War from this band from Glen Rock, New Jersey.
Listen to A More Perfect Union by Titus Andronicus
8) Menomena - Mines
A more emotionally driven album than any of their previous work, but one that retains their quirky and schizophrenic compositional style.
Listen to Dirty Cartoons by Menomena
9) The Books - The Way Out
The first album in five years from the American duo who create acoustic compositions on guitar and cello and cut them up with various samples and found recordings. This is by far their most ambitious, creative and yet easily palatable work yet.
Listen to Beautiful People by The Books
10) Spoon - Transference
Another slick release from these indie rock veterans, generally more sparse and minimal than their previous efforts; tracks like Who Makes Your Money have a real tight swagger and subtle atmospheric production elements add to the concise songwriting.
Listen to The Mystery Zone by Spoon
Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
No Age - Everything In Between
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Frog Eyes - Paul's Tomb: A Triumph
Black Keys - Brothers
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Dreamend - So I Ate Myself Bite By Bite
Xiu Xiu - Dear God I Hate Myself